The Gospel According to Wham-O, part 3

This week I’ve been writing about Frisbees. You can find part one here and part two here. Frisbee flying takes keeping a balance between lift and drag. Too much force and it hooks past your target. Too little force and it comes up short.

Trying to figure out this thing called life is a lot like that. If we force decisions too much, we’ll overshoot our goal. Not enough work put in, though, and we’ll never hit the target. Lift and drag. And it’s really about us and God doing our own part in a nice balance.

This week’s posts are a little longer than I normally write. Part one sort of explained the big principle of Frisbee faith (or the Gospel According to Wham-O as I called it). Part two went into a little more detail about some Bible verses that (I think) have been misrepresented. Today, I want to wrap it all up with some examples of what I’m talking about, some personal stories about my own journey in figuring out how to fly with lift and drag in my life.

A year ago today we closed on the sale of our house in Broken Arrow, OK. It was a big deal, sort of the midpoint in this big adventure our family is on. We closed one chapter to open a new one. But that whole journey started months earlier, and represents a nice balance between what I was doing and what God did in our lives.

A couple years ago I experienced a moment of divine discontentment. I looked at my career – what I was doing and where I was going – and I wasn’t happy. I knew I needed a change, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I did a lot of evaluating and talked to a lot of people about it. I also prayed and meditated on what I was supposed to do. I took a trip out of town with the family to sort of clear my head and really think about it. While away I had one of those “divine appointments” that we always talk about – where God puts somebody in your path who says something that hits just the right chord. It was while I was sitting at the dining room table of my old friend and mentor Dr. Oss that it just sort of clicked. What I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I had always intended to go onto grad school right after college, but as they say – life got in the way. And I’m glad it did! But in order to do the things I wanted to do now, I had to go back to school. I started looking at MDiv programs, both online and in residence. But the amount of hours in the programs (45+), the cost ($$$), and the fact that much of the coursework I had already done in my undergrad made me rethink it all. Then God reminded me of MSU in Springfield, MO. I had friends that got their masters degree there in religious studies. I looked at the coursework and cost, and it was much lighter on my schedule and budget. Plus, God was really stirring in me a passion to interact with those of different beliefs and faiths than mine. This may be the perfect opportunity.

So, about 18 months ago I started the application process. It was full of ups and downs. Yay, I got accepted! No, I didn’t get the graduate assistantship. Yay, I got a scholarship! No, it wasn’t that much. Through it all, I could tell that I was pushing a little and God was pulling a little. We were working together to make all of this happen.

I really felt that lift and drag when it came to selling our house, which Melisa and I decided to do on our own. And what an experience that was! We would sometimes go weeks without a call, then show the house three times in two days. My parents would ask, “What if you don’t sell the house? Are you still moving?” And we would try to push those negative thoughts out of our heads.

We prayed a lot, we advertised a lot, and in the end it only took one person looking at the house, really. I showed the house one Saturday afternoon to a young couple fresh out of college. Within the week, we had a signed contract.

After that – we were homeless! But I wasn’t too worried. I had done my part, and I was fully expecting God to do his part. We were working in balance here, remember. One day a friend of mine asked, “What are you going to do if you sell your house before you’re ready to move?” I told him that if I had to – gulp! – I’d move in with my parents for a few weeks. “Well, we actually own a house that’s empty,” he told me. “Why don’t you guys live there for a couple of months rent free?”

Wow! It was neat to see how pushing at just the right time got us out of our old house, but then letting up at the right time got us into a free house! Lift and drag. Push and pull. Not too much, not too little. Me working, God working, and the whole thing went spinning across the lawn – flat and straight.

Now we’re on this journey. We’re on top of that Frisbee sailing along. And it’s been a blast! Even when it’s tough (living in the middle of a journey is hard work!) it’s still great because we’re learning and we’re growing. Melisa and the kids were willing to uproot their whole lives so I could live out my dreams. But then again, Melisa ended up working at a great school after working really hard at getting the job and letting God direct her path to the perfect place. You find yourself working real hard at the networking game to make connections, then one day at your son’s preschool you meet someone who hands you a card and says, “Let’s do lunch.”

Lift and drag. Me and God, doing our own thing and making it all work. And I’m really looking forward to where this Frisbee will take us next!

The Gospel According to Wham-O, part 2

On Tuesday I wrote about Frisbees. Flying that flat disc across the lawn is tough. If you throw it too hard, it flies off to the right. If you throw it too light, it falls short off to the left. It takes a nice balance between lift and drag to make the Frisbee fly flat and straight.

If we want to live our lives in pursuit of God, there has to be a balance between lift and drag there too. We can’t push too hard – thinking it’s all up to us – or we could overshoot the goal. But it we don’t push hard enough – thinking it’s all up to God – then we’ll surely come up short. It takes that nice balance. Oh, and you have to keep spinning, too.

Now, on Tuesday we didn’t solve the debate between God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom, but I hope I gave you some things to think about. Today, I want to give you an explanation and an example of what I’m talking about.

I’ve heard people say that God is in control of everything all the time. In fact, he’s even decided when we’re going to die! “God has numbered our days,” they say. “It’s in the Bible…somewhere.” Well, the Bible does say something like that, but I’m not sure it says what we think it says. Let’s take a look:

Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139:16

Okay, that sounds legit. There’s a book somewhere and God wrote down exactly how many days you would live. At the end of that time – like a kitchen timer going off – Bam! End of the line, you’re dead. But this Psalm is really talking about how God made us – in his perfect knowledge and wisdom. The poet comes up with this great line, “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” In that act of personal creation, God put us together in just the right way to make us a masterpiece worthy of framing.

That’s a beautiful thought. But the point isn’t so much that God has planned out our future, as it is that he knows so much about us – he even knows how long we’ll live!

Take a look at a couple of other Psalms that talk about this same idea.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.

Psalm 39:4


Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12

Here the poet is asking God for help in numbering our own days. We actually play a role in figuring that out, deciding how long we’re going to live, and comparing that realization to how great big God is!

An all-knowing God would know exactly how long we’ll live. But, knowing beforehand isn’t the same as deciding beforehand. We still play a part in that whole thing. Just like the lift and drag of day-to-day decisions.

Take a look at another verse, this time a Proverb.

In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps.

Proverbs 16:9

At first, this looks like there’s no balance – it’s all up to God. Sure, we can make plans in our own hearts. But God has the last say! HE is the one that establishes our steps. But I’ve got a bone to pick with the translators. Hear me out on this for a second.

The word for “but” is a little bitty Hebrew letter “v”. Most of the time, that little letter is translated “and.” Sure, there are times when a more subtle translation is called for. But let’s go ahead and put “and” back in that verse. Then let’s see what it says.

In their hearts humans plan their course,
and the Lord establishes their steps.

Okay. Go with me on this. Let’s say this is the way the original Proverber meant this little saying. We plan our course – through prayer, through wisdom, through counsel – and because we’ve put so much care into it, God establishes our steps. That makes sense to me. Lift and drag. Perfect balance. Frisbees flying nice and flat and straight.

This means that God actually honors and rewards us for being diligent about planning out our days. I kind of like that. Now, if you go with the preferred translation, the “but”, does the opposite of that make sense? Would God honor and reward someone for not making plans? Would God honor and reward someone for being lazy when it came to decision making? Would God go out of his way to establish the steps of someone just coasting through life, and then frustrate the work of those who make to-do lists, plan ahead, map out strategies in case of disaster?

I think not.

So, there you go. That’s me tackling millennia old Bible translations to prove a point.

And what’s that point? Too often I think we sit back and think God’s got it all under control so we better not do anything to mess up his plans. Other times we feel the weight of every decision and let anxiety rule the day. It’s not a “but,” it’s an “and.” We plan out our days AND God establishes our steps.

Well, I kept rambling and didn’t get around to an example. Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you a story from one year ago about how I pushed hard enough and then watched God do some really amazing things.

The Gospel According to Wham-O

Flying a Frisbee is tough. Teaching a 7-year old to fly a Frisbee is even tougher. I found that out as I taught my daughter to fling that round piece of plastic through the air without hitting the tree next to her or winging the dog behind her. Sigh. Teaching a 7-year old anything is pretty tough.

Most of us learned to throw a Frisbee by throwing it. You sort of get the hang of it and figure it out as you go. My daughter? She’s a question-asker. She kept asking questions like, How does it work, Why does it fly, and Why does it keep going to the right? Answers like, Because you’re not throwing it hard enough, Because you’re throwing it too hard, and Because it just does all right, weren’t good enough for her.

So off to the internet we went!

We found a cool video that explains some of the science. And after watching the video…my daughter had more questions. But I had some answers I didn’t expect.

You see, flying a Frisbee is tough. Following God’s lead for our lives is even tougher. But they’re both pretty much the same.

And with that, I want you to think about this.

If you watched the video then you know the science of a Frisbee is pretty simple. Just fling it and it flies. It works off the same idea of an airplane wing – Lift and Drag. Lift pushes up on the front edge of the Frisbee, while drag pulls down on it. The lift and drag of a Frisbee have to be in a certain balance to work. Fling it too hard, and it lifts off to the right and then down into the ground. Fling it too soft, and it drags down to the left and lands a few feet in front of you.

Lift and Drag. Working together. Push too soft, and it won’t reach the destination. Push too hard, and it will over shoot the target.

Now, think of that Frisbee not as a piece of round plastic with a perfect little lip, but as important decisions you make in life. We all want to make good decisions in life, we all want to end up in a good place. And many of us believe that God plays a pivotal role in that. If you want to follow God’s lead, there’s a tension between God’s Sovereignty and our own Free Will. Lift and Drag.

“God’s got it all planned out.”

“It’s all up to me.”

An ages-old debate I don’t think we’ll settle here, but in thinking about that Frisbee I came up with some conclusions:

1. Both God and I Play Important Roles.

You can’t expect either lift or drag to do all the work on the Frisbee. You have to have both. Or it’s not a Frisbee, it’s just a plate.

My life is not completely determined by God. “Yeah, but the Bible says that God has numbered our days, right?” Well, read that again. Go find it – one of those places is in the Psalms – and see if it really means what you think it means. If it really is the case that God has numbered out our days, then nothing we do makes a difference. And I just can’t believe that. You may disagree, and that’s fine. Plenty of people have. But my decisions are important and are a big part of what happens to my life.

My life is not completely determined by me, either. I’d like to think that I’m 100% in control of my life. I decide when to get up in the morning, what to wear and what to eat that day, and how I’m going to spend my time. I decide what job I’m going to do, who I’m going to hang out with, and where I’m going to live. But I’ve lived on this earth long enough to see some things happen that were so completely outside of my intentions that I just shake my head and think, “Wow, God, you really put that all together, didn’t you?”

2. There’s a Balance Between Force and Freedom in My Decisions.

Think about that Frisbee flying through the air. If I push it too hard, it flies out of bounds. If I don’t push it hard enough, it falls short. Same thing with my life. If I follow too hard after one particular thing, I could overshoot the goal. If I don’t put enough effort in, I’ll come up short.

Just like lift and drag work together to get that Frisbee going, there’s both force and freedom I have to use in my life decisions. Sometimes I need to force a particular issue or event, other times I need to let the freedom of life take over. And that can be tricky. Flying a Frisbee is tough, remember. But you balance your life decisions with a bit of wisdom – and wisdom only comes through living life, and usually from making some mistakes. You learn to fly the Frisbee life by pushing a little hard here and letting up over there and eventually you sort of figure out that balance.

3. My Life Will Only Move Forward if I Keep Moving.

The science of the Frisbee is known as gyroscopic force. That’s a big word that means a spinning object will maintain a stable orientation as long as it keeps spinning. You get the right balance of lift and drag, you hit that sweet spot where the Frisbee flies straight and flat, and that bad boy will keep going until it stops spinning. There’s some more science to it, but that’s really all you need to know. If the Frisbee spins, it moves.

The best way to make sure you don’t move forward in life is to just stop. If you’re doing something, you’re going to move forward. Even if it’s not exactly what God has planned – as long as it’s not a self-destructive behavior – then it’s still okay because you’re moving, you’re doing, you’re gaining momentum.

“But I’m just waiting for God to tell me the next move.”

That’s fine. While you wait, keep moving.

“I don’t want to make a move without God.”

Don’t worry, he’s still there. While you move and work and do good stuff, he’s going to be watching and smiling. Trust me. God doesn’t get upset when we do good stuff.

So those are some of my thoughts from flinging a Frisbee around. Maybe you’ve had some similar thoughts, and maybe your ideas are a lot different than mine. That’s fine, I’d still like to hear them. And I hope you come back in a couple of days to read part two where I talk about an explanation and an example – why I don’t think God is completely in control, and why I think he’s more in control than I usually believe he is.

Until then, why don’t you head outside and play Frisbee with your kids. Trust me, you’ll have a great time…even if the Frisbee ends up in a tree.

Let’s Talk about Talks…Again.

On Tuesday I wrote about this whole idea of what a sermon is. I didn’t completely answer the question. I really just gave my ideas on how the words of ministers should lead people to see Jesus clearly. Sermons should be windows, not walls.

It occurred to me that this isn’t just for ministers. My good friend Tim Patrick once told me that we’re all preachers, we just preach different things. Paul called us “living epistles,” meaning that we all sort of share a message with those around us. What is the message? Paul was pretty clear the message was Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:10

10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

I think that’s pretty central to our “sermons.” We walk around and let people “read” them by seeing Jesus through us. And what do they see? It’s the death of Jesus. He laid down his life for us so that we could live.

That takes a lot of love. Especially to do it for people who didn’t want his help, didn’t care about him, or didn’t love him back.

That love is a great challenge for us as we try to be windows and not walls.

When people see you, can they see Jesus?

Let’s Talk about Talks

When I was growing up they were called sermons and pastors preached them. That’s changed.

One Wednesday night during my time as a youth pastor, a young girl asked me if I was giving “the talk” that night. No, not THE talk. She meant the sermon…or message…or the talk that night. Was I the guy that was talking? If so, I was giving the talk.

I soon learned that all types of churches call all types of sermons all types of things. Message. Lesson. Discussion. And pastors didn’t preach any more, they just spoke. “Who’s speaking this weekend?”

And with that, I want you to think about this.

It was so simple when I was younger. Pastors preached sermons. But now, directors conduct discussions, ministers present messages, or leaders lead lessons.

But what is it that we mean when we talk about all these…talks? What is a sermon? And is it any different than a message or a lesson?

I think one reason the waters have been so muddied is because the church, in seeking to be relevant, has stirred them up. The word “sermon” may make some feel uncomfortable, so let’s change the word. But if only the words change, the comfort level won’t. And if the content changes so that those who wouldn’t normally listen now do (and their lives are changed!), then why change the word?

Another reason this gets so muddy is our use of technology. Now, I love technology – especially videos and funny pictures and great graphics. But if that’s the hallmark of a sermon is technology, if people only remember that you showed a Dumb and Dumber clip, then what impact did your words have?

The goal of a sermon is to change lives! The content of a sermon is the person of Jesus living among us! That’s a simple enough idea that often gets murkier and murkier as we add lights and sounds. And it’s not that lights and sounds are bad – they’re great! But if that’s the only way to be creative, then we’re not being all that creative. The greatest speakers of the human race never knew PowerPoint. But they sculpted great words together into sermons that moved the hands of nations.

One more reason – and then I’ll get to answering that question about what a sermon really is. Speakers run the risk of becoming idols to their audience. And that makes perfect sense, I get it. We put them on a stage, elevated above everyone else, give them a microphone, and put a spotlight on them. All those things are so that it’s easier to see and hear them. But the result oftentimes is that their egos enlarge. And why not? If you have a mic and a spotlight and everyone is hanging on your every word, wouldn’t you get a big head? It takes a great level of humility to do that and not let your ego run wild. But it also takes a fair bit of ego to even stand up on the stage in the first place.

So, how does that balance even work? It’s a constant struggle that ministers must navigate all the time. Confident enough in their own God-given abilities, yet humble enough in their man-made faults to understand “it’s not about you”…even when it is all about you. Even when everyone is watching and listening and laughing and clapping. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. And a minister’s number one job is to point people to Jesus.

Ministers should not be so arrogant as to believe that their sermons are more than mere suggestions of what Jesus looked like. That’s what a sermon is – a clear representation of Jesus Christ. Sermons should be windows not walls. They are a way to view God through the incarnation of Jesus – the God who became flesh and lives with us (John 1:14). When we hear the words of a minister, can we see through their words to see Jesus? A minister’s sermon is only effective as it is transparent.

So, as a pastor/minister/leader who preaches/talks/leads, here’s what I have to ask myself: When I speak, can you see Jesus?

But what do you think? How would you define “sermon”? Is it more than – or less than – just showing people Jesus?